Communion Of Dreams


Italy, 2012: Nasty Naples.

OK, I’m going to get this right out in the open: I don’t like Naples.

Driving through the outskirts of the city previously, it seemed nice enough on first glance. But when you looked closer, that changed. At least it did for me.

I mentioned in the first of these travelogues that Italy had a somewhat casual attitude about many things, and that you just learned to roll with unexpected changes or closures or whatnot. No big deal. At least it wasn’t in most of the (admittedly small) part of the country I got to see.

But in Naples, that “roll with it” attitude is seriously tested. Because it seems like the whole city, and most of the population therein, is *trying* to make things difficult. Difficult for you. Difficult for one another. Difficult for themselves.

You expect any large city to have some not-so-nice areas. For some buildings to be a bit run-down. For the infrastructure to have the occasional problem. In Naples, all of this seems to have been taken almost to an art form. Lots of large apartment complexes look like they’ve been through a war – facades crumbling, paint long since peeled off, iron railings staining walls with rust. There are huge swathes of shanty-towns along the highways, as bad as the worst areas I’ve seen in developing countries. And where another country might have an odd exit ramp closed for maintenance, around Naples there were multiple such ramps and roads which were just fenced off and then used to pile garbage and the sort of debris generated by any large road system: tires, car body pieces, general crap which hadn’t been tied down properly, construction scrap, et cetera.

I was surprised to find out that the port of Naples has the world’s second-highest passenger flow in the world. The city is one of the major metropolitan areas in Europe. It’s almost 3,000 years old, and has a proud and colorful history. But today it is widely considered to be badly corrupt, and the advantages it has due to location and heritage are seemingly squandered.

* * * * * * *

After a morning workshop (I took some notes about the trip, enjoyed walking around the grounds of the villa a bit) and a nice bit of lunch, we loaded up to drive into Naples. Our first stop was the Naples National Archeology Museum. Now, you’ll note that if you go to their website, it is in Italian. Even though the link I used was supposedly for the English-language version. And I can’t find a way to change it to English. Clicking on the ‘English’ icon doesn’t seem to change anything. Which pretty much epitomizes my rant above.

This is a very substantial museum – both is size and in importance. It is said to be the most important archeological museum in Italy. It’s also a bit of a mess.

I’m not picking on the museum because I don’t like Naples. No, it’s the other way around: part of the reason I don’t like Naples is because of this museum.

What didn’t I like? Well, once again, the only climate-controlled area is in the main entrance hall and adjacent galleries. Which are full primarily of sculpture and ceramics. Some very nice sculpture and ceramics, works of art which need to be preserved and cared for, but nonetheless they’re much more stable than many of the other artifacts held in the collection. Artifacts such as extremely fragile wall paintings which were removed from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Artifacts which are in galleries which just have open windows, and so subject to high humidity and temperature variations.

 

* * * * * * * *

One last point, and then I’ll stop bitching about the state of the museum.

As noted, this is a very large facility, and a huge collection. Yet for whatever reason, they just randomly close off whole galleries. This isn’t done by the museum administration, it isn’t some clever plan to rotate exposure of the collection to help preserve it or anything. No, it’s just done by the guards. As in, one guard will get tired of standing, or bored of being by him/herself, and so close off a gallery and go sit and have a chat with another guard in a nearby gallery. It’s common to find two or three guards sitting on a couple of chairs or a bench, chatting away, half-heartedly keeping an eye on the throngs of people passing through the place, while a nearby gallery has been “closed” with a barrier rope and a couple of stands.

At one point either Steve or Amy had to go off and roust one of these guys to come open up a gallery which they had just closed, since it contained some of the most important wall paintings which Steve wanted to show us. It took some convincing, but worked. And when we were done, the guard closed off the section behind us as we left, and went back to having a good conversation with his two buddies in a nearby gallery.

* * * * * * *

Some of the items I took pics of inside the museum, where it was allowed:

Looking down on the Great Hall.

Roman dogs.

Decorative tombs.

Mosaics.

 

 

Mosaics.

 

 

Mosaics.

 

 

Mosaic.

Part of the Roman erotica collection. More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erotic_art_in_Pompeii_and_Herculaneum

* * * * * * *

After we had gone through and seen a number of specific items that Steve wanted to present to the group, we had some time to just explore the museum. I did so, but still had some time to kill. So I decided to pop out into the surrounding neighborhood and hit a couple of the “tobacchi” shops in quest of some stamps for the stack of postcards I had.

The first one did have some stamps. But they weren’t sure what postage I needed to mail to the US. And the denominations of the stamps were such that even to mail within the EU, you had to overpay what was required.

And they only had enough for just a few postcards. Sorry. The prospect of referring me to another nearby “tobacchi” store which might have more seemed to be offensive – why the hell did they want to help either me or the other stores?

So I hoofed it down the street a ways. From a distance I could see two more of the little standard signs the places used.

The first one had a workman doing something to the ceiling of the place, and he had a ladder up in the doorway. I tried to ask whether I could come in, or whether they even had stamps, and was basically told to piss off, complete with a few fairly universal gestures to drive home the point.

I moved on. Down at the bottom of a hill I found the location of another shop. But it had been shuttered for some time, given the disreputable state of things. I asked a couple of nearby people who were waiting for a bus and was once again told to piss off. The guy sitting outside his cheap shoe shop next door wasn’t even that nice about it.

I gave up. Hiked back to the museum to wait for our bus. Probably just as well – one of the four postcards I mailed was to my home. It still hasn’t shown up. I’m glad I saved a buttload of money and just brought the cards home and mailed ‘em from here.

* * * * * * *

Our next stop was Vergil’s Tomb, which is in a nice little park-like location overlooking the city.

Naples.

 

More Naples. Note Vesuvius in the not-too-distant background.

Whether Vergil’s bones are still in the tomb is anyone’s guess. But the group enjoyed going there, and we all drank a tribute to him.

* * * * * * *

We got back to the villa in early evening, in time for a shower and a drink or two before dinner. Going into Naples was depressing enough that I needed that drink or two. Or perhaps it was just because it had now been a full week that I had been in Italy, and the inevitable travel-weariness was starting to catch up to me.

Jim Downey

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hi I am currently in Naples because my fiance is stationed here but I am just visiting for a few months. I agree Naples is nasty it smells and there’s garbage and stray dogs everywhere. It’s completely different from America.

Comment by Dina

Naples is the asshole of the earth.

Comment by John

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post- visited Naples for the first time at the beginning of July this past year. Experienced much of the same, and also found the museum to be hilariously disheveled and dysfunctional. However, it was worth the inconveniences and at times inhospitable hosts to experience the cultural treasures throughout the city. Looking forward to returning to Naples someday!

Comment by Barbara




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